Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Fantasia 2017.20: Spoor, The Endless, and Prey

Tuesday was a pretty short day, but it got a lot of bang for the buck, as Spoor was one that Paul Kazee was playing up throughout the festival and delivered, while The Endless was perhaps my personal most anticipated, since I quite liked Resolution and absolutely adore Spring, and the latest from the folks who made those was a must-see.

It's worth noting that The Endless was one of the press screenings I didn't have a conflict with, but the Q&A the filmmakers did for Resolution was one of the most informative and entertaining I'd seen at a festival, so why not wait until they'll be there? So here's Fantasia's Mitch Davis with the film's Justin Benson (center) and Aaron Moorhead (right), and as expected, the pair were very funny while also talking pretty openly about the film, from how it actually started as a comedy, then was supposed to be a bit smaller in scale, but eventually built up. There was a lot of talk about how crucial sound design was to the film, because some scenes went from terrible to great once they got the ambient sound right, and they drove themselves nuts with some sounds near the end, because every time they tried to get something out of a library, it didn't work - great sound effect, but it sounds like Star Trek.

It was a really fun Q&A, but there's a lot that shouldn't be repeated until The Endless manages to find distribution and release, because of a lot of the discussion and enthusiasm was for something that shows up in the back end of the movie which made the audience absolutely go nuts when we realized what we were seeing, and it would not be fair to deny other people that discovery.

It's a good one, though. Once again, can't wait to see what they do next.

The Q&A for Prey, on the other hand, wasn't exactly a bummer, but you could clearly get the sense that it didn't go the way Mitch was hoping - the name of Dick Maas (right) just didn't ring a bell with much of the audience when Mitch tried to get us revved up, really not until he mentioned that Maas wrote and directed Sint. After the movie, he was pretty frank about how making films like this in the Netherlands was becoming exceptionally difficult - Prey had a $3M budget, compared to the $1-2M most Dutch films have, and as he pointed out, a single sequence would have taken over a million dollars in CGI if he'd gone to one of the big international effect houses. It also didn't do nearly as well as expected in the Netherlands, so he was sounding pessimistic about getting something similar off the ground in the future.

On the other hand, Mitch being astounded that the wheelchairs in the movie (one with tank treads that could climb stairs, one a Segway-derived design) were real things was kind of delightful.

Last day today, and since the big-name shows in Hall have already got dates in Boston, I'll be spending it in de Seve watching Indiana, Le Manoir, Kills on Wheels, and The Night Watchmen

Pokot (Spoor)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

My first impression of Spoor was not quite that it was a "when animals attack" movie told from the point of view of the eccentric old woman that the young protagonists initially disbelieve, although that was certainly in my head once we had enough twenty-something characters for a love triangle. I've got no idea whether that was something the filmmakers had in their heads at any point, and suspect they didn't, especially if you figure that they really weren't making a horror movie, but instead a genre movie that was actually interested in older people - which is something they've done exceptionally well.

The principle one is Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka) - not "Janina", not "Ms. Duszejko", just "Duszejko", if you please - a former civil engineer who likes the fresh air and open spaces of the small Polish town near the Czech border to which she's semi-retired (she teaches English part-time at the elementary school and the kids love her), but hates the hunting culture that surrounds her, which is part and parcel to a larger tolerance for cruelty and indifference to animals. When a neighbor dies, her first impulse is to describe him as a cruel poacher, and she's got little but disdain for Jarek Wnetrzak (Borys Szyc) and the fox "farm" he runs, though she's quite fond of his girlfriend Maria "Good News" Chica (Patrycja Volny), hoping she'll see the crush Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal), the local police department's IT specialist, has on her. Of course, when she and Dyzio find a dead body in the snow, he isn't much more ready to give credence to Duszejko's observation that there are deer tracks leading to the body than anybody else. But as more bodies of hunters pile up during the ensuing months, it starts to look like she may be onto something.

You'll find characters like Duszejko in a lot of horror movies, hanging around the margins, tragically sacrificed as their warnings aren't heeded, and seeing her at the center is an interesting perspective. Even considering that, it's almost shocking when, midway through, a character we've seen a couple times and maybe not given a great deal of eastern looks at her with actual interest, then she later clicks with the older entomologist who discovers one of the bodies... And it doesn't get particularly contentious because they're too old and have been through too much to waste time like that. It seems genuinely exciting to see a movie like this built around people who are at retirement age without making a joke or point of it; they're just the characters the filmmakers saw as interesting people, and not just because they're sensible and experienced: They're individuals informed by their age, but not entirely defined by that.

Full review on EFC.

The Endless

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Aaron Morehead & Justin Benson have not only not made a bad movie yet, but they're 3-for-3 in making fantastic films that at some point make the viewer's eyes bulge with delight at one point or another when it becomes clear that they are doing something really clever. The Endless is no exception, building tension in an almost conventional way and then making sure that both the things that build mystery and resolve it are genuinely thrilling.

Benson & Morehead also star in the movie, and they wind up doing pretty well there too, nailing a great dynamic as brothers who escaped from a cult ten years ago and have never been quite right since, and they work well with the folks who do this for a living. It's fun to watch them play off each other.

And then... well, can't tell you. But sharp-eyed horror fans will love where this goes.

"Health, Wealth & Happiness"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

I'll be curious to see how "Health, Wealth & Happiness" fits in with the other two "Albion Tales" shorts when they wind up placed next to each other and even edited together into a single work. This one is good enough, a three-wishes story with an ironic ending that doesn't really go into surprising places, with even the twisting-of-wishes gotcha being something it feels like we've seen before.

On the plus side, though, is a very nice two-person cast who take these very familiar parts and give them a little more personality than they might have. MyAnna Buring plays this sort of aggressive, not threatened by any man role a lot, but she's exceptionally good at it, and Alex Hassell takes a plain sort of role and does a great riff as he discovers that he's got a posher accent to go with the spiffy clothes he accidentally wished himself into. It's funny and weird and more real than you might expect, even as the rest of the film is kind of straightforward.

Prooi (Prey)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 August 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Prey is, make no bones about it, a silly extra-large-animal-attacks-humans movie, but it's one that is exceptionally well aware of precisely what audiences want from that sort of picture. There not really a single sequence that doesn't play out with exactly the beats that one might expect for this sort of B-movie, and the film in general plays out as you'd expect.

Fortunately, director Dick Maas is a B-movie pro, and he hits the right notes at the right moments, so that while the film never really has great moments of surprise and shock, it's very satisfying in terms of execution, there's a certain comfort to knowing that this is what a killer-animal movie is supposed to do and this is what it does, with the moments of black comedy feeling more genuine than ironic.

And, for a small-budgeted movie, he does all right. The cast is by and large capable and amiable (even if the boyfriend feels utterly unnecessary), and the lion effects are decent. The CGI lions aren't necessarily quite up to having daylight scenes, but they work well enough when there's some shade and cover, while the animatronic lions are pretty good. Gore moments are effective without being excessively gruesome.

Folks who like Maas's work and killer-animal movies should fond it pretty good, and I know there's more than a few, so enjoy, guys!

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